Love Is All There Is

We are still on the terrace of wrath, which began in Purgatorio 15 with the examples of the virtue of meekness or gentleness (the virtue that corresponds to the vice of wrath). Purgatorio 17 begins with a dramatic two-pronged apostrophe. First Dante addresses the reader—a dramatic event in itself, for this is the only address to the reader in the exordium of a canto. Dante then addresses our imaginative faculty or power of imagination. The poet asks the reader—you and me—if ever we had the experience of being caught in a fog in the mountains, to remember what it was like when the vapors begin to melt and the sun to shine through (Purg. 16.1-12). Dante-poet is describing the dissipation of the black fog that envelops the terrace of anger, as Dante-pilgrim and Virgilio leave the third terrace behind.

The apostrophe to the imagination (Purg. 17.13-18) is a meditation on the relationship between what we can imagine and our sense perception: can we imagine only that which we experience through our senses? This is an extraordinarily important point, of enormous relevance to understanding how Dante understood the imaginative act that resulted in his own creation: this poem, the Divina Commedia.

The examples of the vice of anger follow, experienced by the pilgrim as ecstatic visions. Again, the way in which these visions are represented is of great relevance to thinking through how Dante thinks about the problems inherent in representing visionary experience. As we discussed vis-à-vis the ecstatic visions/non false errors of Purgatorio 15, these ecstatic visions are the micro-vision analogues to the macro-vision that is this poem.

Next is the final section of the terrace of anger: the encounter with the angel, the recital of the Beatitude, the removal of the “P” from Dante’s brow, and the climb to the next terrace. The travelers have reached the top of the stairs but cannot proceed to the next terrace; the sun has set, and the pilgrim is becalmed like a ship that has reached the shore. While perforce unable to move on to the “new things that his eyes desire” (“novitadi ond’e’ son vaghi” [Purg. 10.104]), the pilgrim slakes his curiosity (his insatiable curiosity, like that of the Elephant’s Child) by asking Virgilio to tell him about what lies ahead: “quale offensione / si purga qui nel giro dove semo?” (what offense is purged within the circle we have reached? [Purg. 17.82-83]).

Although the pilgrim’s query is restricted to the next terrace, Virgilio takes an expansive route in his reply, offering the purgatorial equivalent of Inferno 11. There, while adjusting their olfactory senses to the stench wafting out of the abyss, Virgilio explained the moral structure of hell. Here, while waiting for the sun to rise, Virgilio explains the moral structure of purgatory.

We learned in Inferno 11 that Dante bases the moral structure of hell on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. We also learned in Inferno 11 that the circles of hell prior to arriving at the city of Dis hold sinners guilty of “incontinence” or “incontenenza” (Inf. 11.82 and 83): those who lacked moderation and self-control, who desired immoderately and excessively. Once we have read Inferno 11 we have a better understanding of why Inferno 7 contains not just misers but misers and prodigals: Dante is not, after all, following the system of the seven capital vices in hell. Dante is using Aristotle’s system, whereby the virtue (liberality) is the mean between the vices of avarice and prodigality.

But what happens if we try to apply the idea of “incontenenza” to the other sins of upper hell? The presence of souls carrying within themselves an “accidioso fummo” (slothful smoke [Inf. 7.123]), submerged in the Styx below the wrathful, suggests the possibility of an Aristotelian understanding of anger in hell, with accidia (sloth) at one extreme, ira at the other extreme, and “buon zelo” as the virtuous mean. We certainly see many signs of anger formulated according to the doctrine of the mean in purgatory. The idea of a righteous versus a non-righteous wrath is embedded in Nino Visconti’s “dritto zelo / che misuratamente in core avvampa” (righteous anger that burns with misura in the heart [Purg. 8.83–84]). Even the Beatitude that marks the departure from the terrace of wrath is formulated according to the doctrine of the mean: “Beati / pacifici, che son sanz’ ira mala!” (Beati pacifici, who are without sinful wrath [Purg. 17.68–69]). The phrase “ira mala” with its implied counterpart, “ira buona”, rewrites the Beatitude to align with the idea of sinful wrath versus righteous wrath, as previously encountered in Giudice Nin’s “dritto zelo” (zelo is always positive in the Commedia; see also “buon zelo” in Purgatorio 29.23 and Paradiso 22.9).

With respect to the lustful, however, Inferno offers only one kind of lack of misura; there is no insufficient love punished in the second circle of hell. For that idea we have to await Purgatorio. In the second realm, based on the Christian system of the seven capital vices, Dante finds a way of superimposing the Aristotelian idea of continence/incontinence (in vernacular terms: misura and dismisura) through the idea of loving with too much vigor and with too little.

Virgilio proceeds by distinctions, breaking down love in such a way as to enable it to account for everything we do. (See the attached chart below for a visual aid to the breakdown.) First he distinguishes between natural love that cannot err, instilled in us, which he puts aside for the purpose of his analysis, turning rather to elective love, which can err in three possible ways. It can choose an evil object, it can love with too little vigor, or it can love with too much vigor:

  Lo naturale è sempre sanza errore,
ma l’altro puote errar per malo obietto
o per troppo o per poco di vigore. (Purg. 17.94-96)
  The natural is always without error,
but mental love may choose an evil object
or err through too much or too little vigor.

Love for the wrong object will express itself in pride, envy, and anger: these are the vices purged on the lower three terraces of purgatory. Love [for the right object but] expressed with insufficient vigor is sloth or accidia: this is the vice purged on the fourth terrace. Love [for the right object but] expressed with excessive vigor is purged on the top three terraces; such love takes the form of avarice, gluttony, and lust. The seven capital vices therefore are distorted forms of love.

The important corollary to this analysis is: all our actions stem from love. Whatever we do, good or bad, is motivated by love:

  Quinci comprender puoi ch’esser convene
amor sementa in voi d’ogne virtute
e d’ogne operazion che merta pene. (Purg. 19.103-05)
From this you see that—of necessity—
  love is the seed in you of every virtue
and of all acts deserving punishment.

I have emphasized Aristotle in this commentary, because I am fascinated by Dante’s attempts throughout the Commedia to suture the non-binary system of the Greek philosopher onto the Christian binary system, one that is fundamentally Augustinian. Augustine provides the language of bonus amor versus malus amor: “a right will is good love and a wrong will is bad love” (“recta itaque voluntas est bonus amor et voluntas perversa malus amor”), he writes in City of God 14.7.

The idea that all our behavior is rooted in love takes us to Aquinas’s treatise on the passions, which contains a precept frequently cited by commentaries on Purgatorio 17: “Unde manifestum est quod omne agens, quodcumque sit, agit quamcumque actionem ex aliquo amore” (every agent whatsoever, therefore, performs every action out of love of some kind [ST 1a2ae.28.6; Blackfriars 1967, vol. 19, pp. 106–07). While cited in commentaries on this canto, it seems to me that we do not take Aquinas’s words seriously enough. If we are to take seriously Dante’s insistence that all behavior is rooted in love then we have to consider extending this challenging idea in a more systematic way to our reading of Inferno. For instance, I tried to apply this principle to Inferno 10 in “Medieval Multiculturalism and Dante’s Theology of Hell,” where I discuss from this perspective the love of Farinata for Florence and of Cavalcante de’ Cavalcanti for his son Guido.

Coordinated Reading

Coordinated Reading: on visionary experience: Chapter 7, “Nonfalse Errors and the True Dreams of the Evangelist”; on love as the cause of all our actions: “Medieval Multiculturalism and Dante’s Theology of Hell,” Dante and the Origins of Italian Literary Culture; “Aristotle’s Mezzo, Courtly Misura, and Dante’s Canzone Le dolci rime: Humanism, Ethics, and Social Anxiety,” Dante and the Greeks, ed. Jan Ziolkowski (Dumbarton Oaks, 2014).

Recommended Citation

Barolini, Teodolinda. “Purgatorio 17: Love Is All There Is.” Commento Baroliniano, Digital Dante. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2017. https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/dante/divine-comedy/purgatorio/purgatorio-17/

About the Commento

1Ricorditi, lettor, se mai ne l’alpe
2ti colse nebbia per la qual vedessi
3non altrimenti che per pelle talpe,

4come, quando i vapori umidi e spessi
5a diradar cominciansi, la spera
6del sol debilemente entra per essi;

7e fia la tua imagine leggera
8in giugnere a veder com’ io rividi
9lo sole in pria, che già nel corcar era.

10Sì, pareggiando i miei co’ passi fidi
11del mio maestro, usci’ fuor di tal nube
12ai raggi morti già ne’ bassi lidi.

13O imaginativa che ne rube
14talvolta sì di fuor, ch’om non s’accorge
15perché dintorno suonin mille tube,

16chi move te, se ’l senso non ti porge?
17Moveti lume che nel ciel s’informa,
18per sé o per voler che giù lo scorge.

19De l’empiezza di lei che mutò forma
20ne l’uccel ch’a cantar più si diletta,
21ne l’imagine mia apparve l’orma;

22e qui fu la mia mente sì ristretta
23dentro da sé, che di fuor non venìa
24cosa che fosse allor da lei ricetta.

25Poi piovve dentro a l’alta fantasia
26un crucifisso, dispettoso e fero
27ne la sua vista, e cotal si moria;

28intorno ad esso era il grande Assüero,
29Estèr sua sposa e ’l giusto Mardoceo,
30che fu al dire e al far così intero.

31E come questa imagine rompeo
32sé per sé stessa, a guisa d’una bulla
33cui manca l’acqua sotto qual si feo,

34surse in mia visïone una fanciulla
35piangendo forte, e dicea: «O regina,
36perché per ira hai voluto esser nulla?

37Ancisa t’hai per non perder Lavina;
38or m’hai perduta! Io son essa che lutto,
39madre, a la tua pria ch’a l’altrui ruina».

40Come si frange il sonno ove di butto
41nova luce percuote il viso chiuso,
42che fratto guizza pria che muoia tutto;

43così l’imaginar mio cadde giuso
44tosto che lume il volto mi percosse,
45maggior assai che quel ch’è in nostro uso.

46I’ mi volgea per veder ov’ io fosse,
47quando una voce disse «Qui si monta»,
48che da ogne altro intento mi rimosse;

49e fece la mia voglia tanto pronta
50di riguardar chi era che parlava,
51che mai non posa, se non si raffronta.

52Ma come al sol che nostra vista grava
53e per soverchio sua figura vela,
54così la mia virtù quivi mancava.

55«Questo è divino spirito, che ne la
56via da ir sù ne drizza sanza prego,
57e col suo lume sé medesmo cela.

58Sì fa con noi, come l’uom si fa sego;
59ché quale aspetta prego e l’uopo vede,
60malignamente già si mette al nego.

61Or accordiamo a tanto invito il piede;
62procacciam di salir pria che s’abbui,
63ché poi non si poria, se ’l dì non riede».

64Così disse il mio duca, e io con lui
65volgemmo i nostri passi ad una scala;
66e tosto ch’io al primo grado fui,

67senti’mi presso quasi un muover d’ala
68e ventarmi nel viso e dir: ‘Beati
69pacifici, che son sanz’ ira mala!’.

70Già eran sovra noi tanto levati
71li ultimi raggi che la notte segue,
72che le stelle apparivan da più lati.

73‘O virtù mia, perché sì ti dilegue?’,
74fra me stesso dicea, ché mi sentiva
75la possa de le gambe posta in triegue.

76Noi eravam dove più non saliva
77la scala sù, ed eravamo affissi,
78pur come nave ch’a la piaggia arriva.

79E io attesi un poco, s’io udissi
80alcuna cosa nel novo girone;
81poi mi volsi al maestro mio, e dissi:

82«Dolce mio padre, dì, quale offensione
83si purga qui nel giro dove semo?
84Se i piè si stanno, non stea tuo sermone».

85Ed elli a me: «L’amor del bene, scemo
86del suo dover, quiritta si ristora;
87qui si ribatte il mal tardato remo.

88Ma perché più aperto intendi ancora,
89volgi la mente a me, e prenderai
90alcun buon frutto di nostra dimora».

91«Né creator né creatura mai»,
92cominciò el, «figliuol, fu sanza amore,
93o naturale o d’animo; e tu ’l sai.

94Lo naturale è sempre sanza errore,
95ma l’altro puote errar per malo obietto
96o per troppo o per poco di vigore.

97Mentre ch’elli è nel primo ben diretto,
98e ne’ secondi sé stesso misura,
99esser non può cagion di mal diletto;

100ma quando al mal si torce, o con più cura
101o con men che non dee corre nel bene,
102contra ’l fattore adovra sua fattura.

103Quinci comprender puoi ch’esser convene
104amor sementa in voi d’ogne virtute
105e d’ogne operazion che merta pene.

106Or, perché mai non può da la salute
107amor del suo subietto volger viso,
108da l’odio proprio son le cose tute;

109e perché intender non si può diviso,
110e per sé stante, alcuno esser dal primo,
111da quello odiare ogne effetto è deciso.

112Resta, se dividendo bene stimo,
113che ’l mal che s’ama è del prossimo; ed esso
114amor nasce in tre modi in vostro limo.

115È chi, per esser suo vicin soppresso,
116spera eccellenza, e sol per questo brama
117ch’el sia di sua grandezza in basso messo;

118è chi podere, grazia, onore e fama
119teme di perder perch’ altri sormonti,
120onde s’attrista sì che ’l contrario ama;

121ed è chi per ingiuria par ch’aonti,
122sì che si fa de la vendetta ghiotto,
123e tal convien che ’l male altrui impronti.

124Questo triforme amor qua giù di sotto
125si piange: or vo’ che tu de l’altro intende,
126che corre al ben con ordine corrotto.

127Ciascun confusamente un bene apprende
128nel qual si queti l’animo, e disira;
129per che di giugner lui ciascun contende.

130Se lento amore a lui veder vi tira
131o a lui acquistar, questa cornice,
132dopo giusto penter, ve ne martira.

133Altro ben è che non fa l’uom felice;
134non è felicità, non è la buona
135essenza, d’ogne ben frutto e radice.

136L’amor ch’ad esso troppo s’abbandona,
137di sovr’ a noi si piange per tre cerchi;
138ma come tripartito si ragiona,

139tacciolo, acciò che tu per te ne cerchi».

Remember, reader, if you’ve ever been
caught in the mountains by a mist through which
you only saw as moles see through their skin,

how, when the thick, damp vapors once begin
to thin, the sun’s sphere passes feebly through them,
then your imagination will be quick

to reach the point where it can see how I
first came to see the sun again—when it
was almost at the point at which it sets.

So, my steps matched my master’s trusty steps;
out of that cloud I came, reaching the rays
that, on the shores below, by now were spent.

O fantasy, you that at times would snatch
us so from outward things—we notice nothing
although a thousand trumpets sound around us—

who moves you when the senses do not spur you?
A light that finds its form in Heaven moves you—
directly or led downward by God’s will.

Within my fantasy I saw impressed
the savagery of one who then, transformed,
became the bird that most delights in song;

at this, my mind withdrew to the within,
to what imagining might bring; no thing
that came from the without could enter in.

Then into my deep fantasy there rained
one who was crucified; and as he died,
he showed his savagery and his disdain.

Around him were great Ahasuerus and
Esther his wife, and the just Mordecai,
whose saying and whose doing were so upright.

And when this image shattered of itself,
just like a bubble that has lost the water
beneath which it was formed, there then rose up

in my envisioning a girl who wept
most bitterly and said: “O queen, why did
you, in your wrath, desire to be no more?

So as to keep Lavinia, you killed
yourself; now you have lost me! I am she,
mother, who mourns your fall before another’s.”

Even as sleep is shattered when new light
strikes suddenly against closed eyes and, once
it’s shattered, gleams before it dies completely,

so my imagination fell away
as soon as light—more powerful than light
we are accustomed to—beat on my eyes.

I looked about to see where I might be;
but when a voice said: “Here one can ascend,”
then I abandoned every other intent.

That voice made my will keen to see the one
who’d spoken—with the eagerness that cannot
be still until it faces what it wants.

But even as the sun, become too strong,
defeats our vision, veiling its own form,
so there my power of sight was overcome.

“This spirit is divine; and though unasked,
he would conduct us to the upward path;
he hides himself with that same light he sheds.

He does with us as men do with themselves;
for he who sees a need but waits to be
asked is already set on cruel refusal.

Now let our steps accept his invitation,
and let us try to climb before dark falls—
then, until day returns, we’ll have to halt.”

So said my guide; and toward a stairway, he
and I, together, turned; and just as soon
as I was at the first step, I sensed something

much like the motion of a wing, and wind
that beat against my face, and words: “Beati
pacifici, those free of evil anger!”

Above us now the final rays before;
the fall of night were raised to such a height
that we could see the stars on every side.

“O why, my strength, do you so melt away?”
I said within myself, because I felt
the force within my legs compelled to halt.

We’d reached a point at which the upward stairs
no longer climbed, and we were halted there
just like a ship when it has touched the shore.

I listened for a while, hoping to hear
whatever there might be in this new circle;
then I turned toward my master, asking him:

“Tell me, my gentle father: what offense
is purged within the circle we have reached?
Although our feet must stop, your words need not.”

And he to me: “Precisely here, the love
of good that is too tepidly pursued
is mended; here the lazy oar plies harder.

But so that you may understand more clearly,
now turn your mind to me, and you will gather
some useful fruit from our delaying here.

My son, there’s no Creator and no creature
who ever was without love—natural
or mental; and you know that,” he began.

“The natural is always without error,
but mental love may choose an evil object
or err through too much or too little vigor.

As long as it’s directed toward the First Good
and tends toward secondary goods with measure,
it cannot be the cause of evil pleasure;

but when it twists toward evil, or attends
to good with more or less care than it should,
those whom He made have worked against their Maker.

From this you see that—of necessity—
love is the seed in you of every virtue
and of all acts deserving punishment.

Now, since love never turns aside its eyes
from the well—being of its subject, things
are surely free from hatred of themselves;

and since no being can be seen as self—
existing and divorced from the First Being,
each creature is cut off from hating Him.

Thus, if I have distinguished properly,
ill love must mean to wish one’s neighbor ill;
and this love’s born in three ways in your clay.

There’s he who, through abasement of another,
hopes for supremacy; he only longs
to see his neighbor’s excellence cast down.

Then there is one who, when he is outdone,
fears his own loss of fame, power, honor, favor;
his sadness loves misfortune for his neighbor.

And there is he who, over injury
received, resentful, for revenge grows greedy
and, angrily, seeks out another’s harm.

This threefold love is expiated here
below; now I would have you understand
the love that seeks the good distortedly.

Each apprehends confusedly a Good
in which the mind may rest, and longs for It;
and, thus, all strive to reach that Good; but if

the love that urges you to know It or
to reach that Good is lax, this terrace, after
a just repentance, punishes for that.

There is a different good, which does not make
men glad; it is not happiness, is not
true essence, fruit and root of every good.

The love that-profligately—yields to that
is wept on in three terraces above us;
but I’ll not say what three shapes that loves takes—

may you seek those distinctions for yourself.”

REMEMBER, Reader, if e’er in the Alps
A mist o’ertook thee, through which thou couldst see
Not otherwise than through its membrane mole,

How, when the vapours humid and condensed
Begin to dissipate themselves, the sphere
Of the sun feebly enters in among them,

And thy imagination will be swift
In coming to perceive how I re—saw
The sun at first, that was already setting.

Thus, to the faithful footsteps of my Master
Mating mine own, I issued from that cloud
To rays already dead on the low shores.

O thou, Imagination, that dost steal us
So from without sometimes, that man perceives not,
Although around may sound a thousand trumpets,

Who moveth thee, if sense impel thee not?
Moves thee a light, which in the heaven takes form,
By self, or by a will that downward guides it.

Of her impiety, who changed her form
Into the bird that most delights in singing,
In my imagining appeared the trace;

And hereupon my mind was so withdrawn
Within itself, that from without there came
Nothing that then might be received by it.

Then reigned within my lofty fantasy
One crucified, disdainful and ferocious
In countenance, and even thus was dying.

Around him were the great Ahasuerus,
Esther his wife, and the just Mordecai,
Who was in word and action so entire.

And even as this image burst asunder
Of its own self, in fashion of a bubble
In which the water it was made of fails,

There rose up in my vision a young maiden
Bitterly weeping, and she said: “O queen,
Why hast thou wished in anger to be naught ?

Thou’st slain thyself, Lavinia not to lose;
Now hast thou lost me; I am she who mourns,
Mother, at thine ere at another’s ruin.”

As sleep is broken, when upon a sudden
New light strikes in upon the eyelids closed,
And broken quivers ere it dieth wholly,

So this imagining of mine fell down
As soon as the effulgence smote my face,
Greater by far than what is in our wont.

I turned me round to see where I might be,
When said a voice, “Here is the passage up;”
Which from all other purposes removed me,

And made my wish so full of eagerness
To look and see who was it that was speaking,
It never rests till meeting face to face;

But as before the sun, which quells the sight,
And in its own excess its figure veils,
Even so my power was insufficient here.

“This is a spirit divine, who in the way
Of going up directs us without asking
And who with his own light himself conceals.

He does with us as man doth with himself;
For he who sees the need, and waits the asking,
Malignly leans already tow’rds denial.

Accord we now our feet to such inviting,
Let us make haste to mount ere it grow dark;
For then we could not till the day return.”

Thus my Conductor said; and I and he
Together turned our footsteps to a stairway,
And I, as soon as the first step I reached

Near me perceived a motion as of wings
And fanning in the face, and saying, “Beati
Pacifi, who are without ill anger.”

Already over us were so uplifted
The latest sunbeams, which the night pursues,
That upon many sides the stars appeared.

“O manhood mine, why dost thou vanish so ?”
I said within myself; for I perceived
The vigour of my legs was put in truce.

We at the point were where no more ascends
The stairway upward, and were motionless,
Even as a ship, which at the shore arrives;

And I gave heed a little, if I might hear
Aught whatsoever in the circle new;
Then to my Master turned me round and said:

“Say, my sweet Father, what delinquency
Is purged here in the circle where we are?
Although our feet may pause, pause not thy speech.”

And he to me: “The love of good, remiss
In what it should have done, is here restored;
Here plied again the ill—belated oar;

But still more openly to understand,
Turn unto me thy mind, and thou shalt gather
Some profitable fruit from our delay.

Neither Creator nor a creature ever,
Son,” he began, “was destitute of love
Natural or spiritual; and thou knowest it.

The natural was ever without error;
But err the other may by evil object,
Or by too much, or by too little vigour.

While in the first it well directed is,
And in the second moderates itself,
It cannot be the cause of sinful pleasure;

But when to ill it turns, and, with more care
Or lesser than it ought, runs after good,
”Gainst the Creator works his own creation.

Hence thou mayst comprehend that love must be
The seed within yourselves of every virtue,
And every act that merits punishment.

Now inasmuch as never from the welfare
Of its own subject can love turn its sight,
From their own hatred all things are secure;

And since we cannot think of any being
Standing alone, nor from the First divided,
Of hating Him is all desire cut off.

Hence if, discriminating, I judge well,
The evil that one loves is of one’s neighbour,
And this is born in three modes in your clay.

There are, who, by abasement of their neighbour,
Hope to excel, and therefore only long
That from his greatness he may be cast down;

There are, who power, grace, honour, and renown
Fear they may lose because another rises,
Thence are so sad that the reverse they love;

And there are those whom injury seems to chafe,
So that it makes them greedy for revenge,
And such must needs shape out another’s harm.

This threefold love is wept for down below;
Now of the other will I have thee hear,
That runneth after good with measure faulty.

Each one confusedly a good conceives
Wherein the mind may rest, and longeth for it;
Therefore to overtake it each one strives.

If languid love to look on this attract you,
Or in attaining unto it, this cornice,
After just penitence, torments you for it.

There’s other good that does not make man happy;
‘Tis not felicity, ’tis not the good
Essence, of every good the fruit and root.

The love that yields itself too much to this
Above us is lamented in three circles;
But how tripartite it may be described,

I say not, that thou seek it for thyself.”

Remember, reader, if you’ve ever been
caught in the mountains by a mist through which
you only saw as moles see through their skin,

how, when the thick, damp vapors once begin
to thin, the sun’s sphere passes feebly through them,
then your imagination will be quick

to reach the point where it can see how I
first came to see the sun again—when it
was almost at the point at which it sets.

So, my steps matched my master’s trusty steps;
out of that cloud I came, reaching the rays
that, on the shores below, by now were spent.

O fantasy, you that at times would snatch
us so from outward things—we notice nothing
although a thousand trumpets sound around us—

who moves you when the senses do not spur you?
A light that finds its form in Heaven moves you—
directly or led downward by God’s will.

Within my fantasy I saw impressed
the savagery of one who then, transformed,
became the bird that most delights in song;

at this, my mind withdrew to the within,
to what imagining might bring; no thing
that came from the without could enter in.

Then into my deep fantasy there rained
one who was crucified; and as he died,
he showed his savagery and his disdain.

Around him were great Ahasuerus and
Esther his wife, and the just Mordecai,
whose saying and whose doing were so upright.

And when this image shattered of itself,
just like a bubble that has lost the water
beneath which it was formed, there then rose up

in my envisioning a girl who wept
most bitterly and said: “O queen, why did
you, in your wrath, desire to be no more?

So as to keep Lavinia, you killed
yourself; now you have lost me! I am she,
mother, who mourns your fall before another’s.”

Even as sleep is shattered when new light
strikes suddenly against closed eyes and, once
it’s shattered, gleams before it dies completely,

so my imagination fell away
as soon as light—more powerful than light
we are accustomed to—beat on my eyes.

I looked about to see where I might be;
but when a voice said: “Here one can ascend,”
then I abandoned every other intent.

That voice made my will keen to see the one
who’d spoken—with the eagerness that cannot
be still until it faces what it wants.

But even as the sun, become too strong,
defeats our vision, veiling its own form,
so there my power of sight was overcome.

“This spirit is divine; and though unasked,
he would conduct us to the upward path;
he hides himself with that same light he sheds.

He does with us as men do with themselves;
for he who sees a need but waits to be
asked is already set on cruel refusal.

Now let our steps accept his invitation,
and let us try to climb before dark falls—
then, until day returns, we’ll have to halt.”

So said my guide; and toward a stairway, he
and I, together, turned; and just as soon
as I was at the first step, I sensed something

much like the motion of a wing, and wind
that beat against my face, and words: “Beati
pacifici, those free of evil anger!”

Above us now the final rays before;
the fall of night were raised to such a height
that we could see the stars on every side.

“O why, my strength, do you so melt away?”
I said within myself, because I felt
the force within my legs compelled to halt.

We’d reached a point at which the upward stairs
no longer climbed, and we were halted there
just like a ship when it has touched the shore.

I listened for a while, hoping to hear
whatever there might be in this new circle;
then I turned toward my master, asking him:

“Tell me, my gentle father: what offense
is purged within the circle we have reached?
Although our feet must stop, your words need not.”

And he to me: “Precisely here, the love
of good that is too tepidly pursued
is mended; here the lazy oar plies harder.

But so that you may understand more clearly,
now turn your mind to me, and you will gather
some useful fruit from our delaying here.

My son, there’s no Creator and no creature
who ever was without love—natural
or mental; and you know that,” he began.

“The natural is always without error,
but mental love may choose an evil object
or err through too much or too little vigor.

As long as it’s directed toward the First Good
and tends toward secondary goods with measure,
it cannot be the cause of evil pleasure;

but when it twists toward evil, or attends
to good with more or less care than it should,
those whom He made have worked against their Maker.

From this you see that—of necessity—
love is the seed in you of every virtue
and of all acts deserving punishment.

Now, since love never turns aside its eyes
from the well—being of its subject, things
are surely free from hatred of themselves;

and since no being can be seen as self—
existing and divorced from the First Being,
each creature is cut off from hating Him.

Thus, if I have distinguished properly,
ill love must mean to wish one’s neighbor ill;
and this love’s born in three ways in your clay.

There’s he who, through abasement of another,
hopes for supremacy; he only longs
to see his neighbor’s excellence cast down.

Then there is one who, when he is outdone,
fears his own loss of fame, power, honor, favor;
his sadness loves misfortune for his neighbor.

And there is he who, over injury
received, resentful, for revenge grows greedy
and, angrily, seeks out another’s harm.

This threefold love is expiated here
below; now I would have you understand
the love that seeks the good distortedly.

Each apprehends confusedly a Good
in which the mind may rest, and longs for It;
and, thus, all strive to reach that Good; but if

the love that urges you to know It or
to reach that Good is lax, this terrace, after
a just repentance, punishes for that.

There is a different good, which does not make
men glad; it is not happiness, is not
true essence, fruit and root of every good.

The love that-profligately—yields to that
is wept on in three terraces above us;
but I’ll not say what three shapes that loves takes—

may you seek those distinctions for yourself.”

REMEMBER, Reader, if e’er in the Alps
A mist o’ertook thee, through which thou couldst see
Not otherwise than through its membrane mole,

How, when the vapours humid and condensed
Begin to dissipate themselves, the sphere
Of the sun feebly enters in among them,

And thy imagination will be swift
In coming to perceive how I re—saw
The sun at first, that was already setting.

Thus, to the faithful footsteps of my Master
Mating mine own, I issued from that cloud
To rays already dead on the low shores.

O thou, Imagination, that dost steal us
So from without sometimes, that man perceives not,
Although around may sound a thousand trumpets,

Who moveth thee, if sense impel thee not?
Moves thee a light, which in the heaven takes form,
By self, or by a will that downward guides it.

Of her impiety, who changed her form
Into the bird that most delights in singing,
In my imagining appeared the trace;

And hereupon my mind was so withdrawn
Within itself, that from without there came
Nothing that then might be received by it.

Then reigned within my lofty fantasy
One crucified, disdainful and ferocious
In countenance, and even thus was dying.

Around him were the great Ahasuerus,
Esther his wife, and the just Mordecai,
Who was in word and action so entire.

And even as this image burst asunder
Of its own self, in fashion of a bubble
In which the water it was made of fails,

There rose up in my vision a young maiden
Bitterly weeping, and she said: “O queen,
Why hast thou wished in anger to be naught ?

Thou’st slain thyself, Lavinia not to lose;
Now hast thou lost me; I am she who mourns,
Mother, at thine ere at another’s ruin.”

As sleep is broken, when upon a sudden
New light strikes in upon the eyelids closed,
And broken quivers ere it dieth wholly,

So this imagining of mine fell down
As soon as the effulgence smote my face,
Greater by far than what is in our wont.

I turned me round to see where I might be,
When said a voice, “Here is the passage up;”
Which from all other purposes removed me,

And made my wish so full of eagerness
To look and see who was it that was speaking,
It never rests till meeting face to face;

But as before the sun, which quells the sight,
And in its own excess its figure veils,
Even so my power was insufficient here.

“This is a spirit divine, who in the way
Of going up directs us without asking
And who with his own light himself conceals.

He does with us as man doth with himself;
For he who sees the need, and waits the asking,
Malignly leans already tow’rds denial.

Accord we now our feet to such inviting,
Let us make haste to mount ere it grow dark;
For then we could not till the day return.”

Thus my Conductor said; and I and he
Together turned our footsteps to a stairway,
And I, as soon as the first step I reached

Near me perceived a motion as of wings
And fanning in the face, and saying, “Beati
Pacifi, who are without ill anger.”

Already over us were so uplifted
The latest sunbeams, which the night pursues,
That upon many sides the stars appeared.

“O manhood mine, why dost thou vanish so ?”
I said within myself; for I perceived
The vigour of my legs was put in truce.

We at the point were where no more ascends
The stairway upward, and were motionless,
Even as a ship, which at the shore arrives;

And I gave heed a little, if I might hear
Aught whatsoever in the circle new;
Then to my Master turned me round and said:

“Say, my sweet Father, what delinquency
Is purged here in the circle where we are?
Although our feet may pause, pause not thy speech.”

And he to me: “The love of good, remiss
In what it should have done, is here restored;
Here plied again the ill—belated oar;

But still more openly to understand,
Turn unto me thy mind, and thou shalt gather
Some profitable fruit from our delay.

Neither Creator nor a creature ever,
Son,” he began, “was destitute of love
Natural or spiritual; and thou knowest it.

The natural was ever without error;
But err the other may by evil object,
Or by too much, or by too little vigour.

While in the first it well directed is,
And in the second moderates itself,
It cannot be the cause of sinful pleasure;

But when to ill it turns, and, with more care
Or lesser than it ought, runs after good,
”Gainst the Creator works his own creation.

Hence thou mayst comprehend that love must be
The seed within yourselves of every virtue,
And every act that merits punishment.

Now inasmuch as never from the welfare
Of its own subject can love turn its sight,
From their own hatred all things are secure;

And since we cannot think of any being
Standing alone, nor from the First divided,
Of hating Him is all desire cut off.

Hence if, discriminating, I judge well,
The evil that one loves is of one’s neighbour,
And this is born in three modes in your clay.

There are, who, by abasement of their neighbour,
Hope to excel, and therefore only long
That from his greatness he may be cast down;

There are, who power, grace, honour, and renown
Fear they may lose because another rises,
Thence are so sad that the reverse they love;

And there are those whom injury seems to chafe,
So that it makes them greedy for revenge,
And such must needs shape out another’s harm.

This threefold love is wept for down below;
Now of the other will I have thee hear,
That runneth after good with measure faulty.

Each one confusedly a good conceives
Wherein the mind may rest, and longeth for it;
Therefore to overtake it each one strives.

If languid love to look on this attract you,
Or in attaining unto it, this cornice,
After just penitence, torments you for it.

There’s other good that does not make man happy;
‘Tis not felicity, ’tis not the good
Essence, of every good the fruit and root.

The love that yields itself too much to this
Above us is lamented in three circles;
But how tripartite it may be described,

I say not, that thou seek it for thyself.”